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Emphasis on Breakout Sessions Create Safe Spaces to Discuss Mental Health, Social Unrest; Participate in Division Strategic Planning

 Robert Baker, member of the NAD Year-End Meeting productions team, monitors members of the executive committee on Zoom prior to breakout session on the division’s 2020-2025 strategic plan. Photo: Pieter Damsteegt

Robert Baker, member of the NAD Year-End Meeting production team, monitors the Zoom video conferencing "meeting" that holds members of the executive committee prior to breakout session on the division’s 2020-2025 strategic plan. Photo: Pieter Damsteegt

A unique component of the 2020 Year-End Meeting of the North American Division was virtual breakout sessions that were curated to prompt specific, productive engagement among the division’s executive committee members via Zoom. From assisting in the strategic planning of the 2020-2025 quinquennium, to grappling with the church’s role in a time of social unrest, considerable time was spent activating leaders to consider hard questions, reimagine mission, and reflect on the mental health of themselves and their constituents.

Mental Health

On November 3, Bonita Shields, NAD vice president for ministries, started the final breakout of the 2020 NAD Year-End Meeting. Shields explained that this mental health segment would include a survey, a video, and small group breakout sessions. She then introduced Angeline Brauer, DrPH, MHS, RDN, NAD Health Ministries director, who coordinated the poll that executive committee delegates answered through a Zoom pop-up window.

Before getting into the poll, Brauer set the scene. “The purpose [of this session] is to foster awareness and to create synergy. That is what we want to accomplish today,” she said. “With our poll, what we want to do is form a foundation for where we're going to start our conversation.”

The video, a film titled “The Manic Monologues,” was created by students and faculty of Stanford University, and shown to the executive committee by AdventHealth, who purchased the rights to use the film. Thirty-minute small group breakouts followed.

Near the close of the special session, as delegates gathered again in the general meeting, G. Alexander Bryant, NAD president, shared his thoughts. “As [Dr. Brauer] said, if someone broke their ankle, we wouldn't ‘spiritualize’ it and just say go pray about it. We’d create a safe place for them to go and get assistance and help,” added Bryant. “Don't you think the [1.2 million Adventists in the NAD] can have an impact on helping to destigmatize and offering a safe place? We can make our brothers and sisters feel like they're a part of our community, that they can share and not have to hide if they have a mental illness.”

Gladys Guerrero-Cavalheiro, processing assistant for the NAD office of volunteer missions, advances slides containing polling questions as part of the special mental health session on November 3. Photo: Pieter Damsteegt

Gladys Guerrero-Cavalheiro, processing assistant for the NAD Office of Volunteer Missions, advances slides containing polling questions as part of the special mental health session on November 3. Photo: Pieter Damsteegt

Responding to Injustice

The nation-wide response to the death of George Floyd, whose life was taken by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, during Memorial Day weekend, prompted widespread action and stirred an array of emotions. People of all races, ages, and faith took the streets to march, small businesses and large corporations and organizations, including the NAD, issued statements condemning racism and promoting equity and inclusion. However, many agreed that, after the dust settled from the demonstrations, continued dialogue will remain key to creating lasting change.

Such was the motivation that led the breakout discussion on Monday, November 2, curated to have executive committee members examine what the Bible says about responding to injustices not only in our communities and nation, but against our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

Carolyn Forrest, associate secretary of the North American Division, and director of NAD Human Relations, Interdivision/International Service Employee Resources, and Archives and Statistics, along with Orlan Johnson, director of NAD Public Affairs and Religious Liberty, led out the session under the title of “Biblical Justice and Biblical Ethics in a World of Social Unrest.”

“We hope this lays the foundation for continued dialogue, to listen to each other’s stories not from our heads, but from our hearts. We are one family, when one part hurts and feels pain, the whole family hurts and feels pain,” said Forrest. “We recognize for some this may not be an easy conversation. We live in a society that is constantly changing. As God’s church, we’re in the midst of it.”

Carolyn Forrest, NAD associate secretary, introduces the presentation on “Biblical Justice and Biblical Ethics in a World of Social Unrest,” which took place November 2. Photo: Pieter Damsteegt.

Carolyn Forrest, NAD associate secretary, introduces the presentation on “Biblical Justice and Biblical Ethics in a World of Social Unrest,” which took place November 2. Photo: Pieter Damsteegt.

Multiply

The second breakout of the annual business meeting followed a presentation by Ivan Williams, director of the NAD Ministerial Association, and Jose Cortes, Jr., associate director of the association. A voted action in 2019 said the year 2022 would be the year of evangelism, under the term “Multiply.” Williams explained that it was planned that 2022 be a year of discipleship, equipping, church planting. When COVID-19 hit, the CALLED convention, which was the official launch of the plan of preparation, was cancelled.

Ministerial has produced a book, put together by more than 20 evangelism practitioners, about how the church can be engaged in “multiplying.” The initial goal was to baptize and equip 50,000 people, and to plant 400 churches in 2022.

NAD president Bryant, however, was one several leaders eager to get the emphasis started earlier, and to have it last longer than a year.

Williams said, “As we began moving forward, and as we've shared with several of our advisories, our committees, ministerial evangelism, our pastors advisory, the feedback came back: ‘why focus on one year? Why couldn't this be something that we really emphasize and dive in, throughout the quinquennium?’ And so, with that in mind, we want to share something about the possibility of ‘what if?’"

Jose Cortes, Jr. described how children grow, then start families … then families grow. That is growing through multiplication. He mentioned how churches grow and how they can multiply, citing church plants as a relevant example.

“The same thing with a disciple … duplication begins to take place once you begin to bring others to Christ, and it is what we need to plant, and we need to revitalize every year. … Here [at NAD YEM] these are conversations. I know that these are really big projections that only with the help of God can take place. But it is all about multiplying. Not growing, but multiplying God's kingdom.”

Executive committee members were directed to breakout groups to discuss how they and their constituents, churches, and members can answer the call to boost discipleship and plant new churches within their spheres of influence.

Eric Castro, MicroComputer manager for the NAD office of information technology and services, monitors the technical components of the virtual NAD Year-End Meeting. Photo: Pieter Damsteegt

Eric Castro, MicroComputer manager for the NAD office of information technology and services, monitors the technical components of the virtual NAD Year-End Meeting. Photo: Pieter Damsteegt

Quinquennium Strategy

The first breakout session of the annual meeting served as an extension of the president’s report on Thursday, October 29. Bryant asked executive committee members to reimagine the division’s approach to mission in regard to diversity, growth, mission, social media, services and resources, education, public relations, and community services. Special emphasis, however, was placed on asking the Holy Spirit to lead the actions of leaders to help create exponential growth for the church, and multiply disciples rather than just adding members.

Bryant and the division’s leaders aim to have ideas generated from the breakout sessions help craft the strategic plan for the 2020-2025 quinquennium.

Details in February

As a result of active participation in the breakout groups and business sessions of the 2020 NAD Year-End Meeting, the executive body voted to adopt the “multiply” initiative, develop strategies for mass media, continuously develop a strategy for mentorship/leadership — a pillar of NAD’s mission; and discuss the role and function of the NAD as it relates to unions, conferences, and other entities. Leaders will reconvene in February to discuss ways of incorporating specific, practical steps toward reaching these goals.